“For me the ultimate luxury is time. Especially when you have the time to create a bespoke fragrance of your own.” This is the opinion of Anne-Lise Cremona, the current CEO of Henry Jacques. Anne-Lise’s father, Henry Jacques Cremona, founded the eponymous “haute parfumerie” in 1975 on the outskirts of Grasse, the very hub of French haute perfumery since the 17th century. The perfumery, known for using only premium natural essences from all over the world and for following time-honoured principles of craftsmanship, has recently opened a magnificent store in The Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue extension.
Henry was a man driven by his insatiable passion for fragrances, and a stubborn unwillingness to compromise on quality. “For my father, quality and quantity could not work together because he would have lost the essence of the product itself. Thanks to these values we stayed very far from the crowd for many years.” The perfumery, instead, carved out a niche market by modelling itself on “an haute couture house, creating bespoke perfumes as per our client’s request. We had a private clientele of important people from all over the world who wanted something they could not find anywhere else. Sometimes it was for themselves, sometimes as a gift, or more importantly, sometimes as an official state gift,” Anne-Lise told Signé while giving us an exclusive tour of the new boutique.
Even though the brand remained hidden for a long time, its prestige was such, that when Harrods of London unveiled the ultra-exclusive Salon De Parfums on its sixth floor, Henry Jacques was one of only ten brands invited to display their perfumes, out of nearly 300 at Harrods. Moreover, they were the only brand, out of the ten, to make their debut directly on the sixth floor. In fact, according to Anne-Lise “Harrods wanted us to display our perfumes for a while, but we declined because we wanted to wait for the right environment.”
“For Henry Jacques, the perfume is the king. Not the face of someone. The perfume is at the centre of our attention,” Says Ann-Lise when asked what makes her perfumes so special. “The key for us is our beautiful laboratory in the South of France. It is a rare place where we have around 1,200 natural ingredients, sourced from around the world, that we can blend to produce new perfumes. The entire creative process, from blending to the packing happens in-house, and mostly by hand.”
Another unusual quality of Henry Jacques is that the perfumery has managed to retain its complete independence as a family run business. “I started to work in the family business when I was around 19 while also studying at the same time. After my studies, I wanted to find my own path, and so I worked for major groups in the perfume industry, in Paris and Geneva. Seven years ago, I came back because I could not accept the idea of my parents’ great work amounting to nothing. The other, more important reason was to maintain the brand’s respect and to protect it. This is something I have shared with Christophe [Tollemer, Artistic Director] from the very beginning and it underlines everything we do. I see myself as a guardian of our savoir-faire.”
“For almost three years after returning, I focused mostly on selecting 50 of the best perfumes for our first collection to be introduced into retail.” Normally, this would mean creating new fragrances, but at Henry Jacques, it was a case of painstakingly selecting the 50 perfumes, “from the almost 3,000 perfumes created over 40 years,” and “was a tremendous challenge.”
Harrods was the brand’s first venture into retail and proved to be quite successful considering the competition. Ann-Lise is adamant that the success was “due to the work of our parents,” because, “I would have never been able to do that alone. It takes several lives and many hours of dedication” to attain that level of brand recognition.
Buoyed by this success, Ann-Lise has plans to bring the Henry Jacques haute parfumerie experience to more locations around the world; one stand-alone boutique at a time. For this, the perfumery has embarked on joint ventures in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala-Lumpur and other locations in Asia. It is also set to open its first Boutique on Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles in March. Ann-Lise’s eldest son Sasha now heads the Communications team at Henry Jacques because “he understands exactly where the limits are” between protecting the brand’s heritage, its modernisation and its expansion.
The subject of expansion brings us to the new boutique at Dubai Mall. The whole retail space is designed in-house by the brand’s talented Creative Director Christophe Tollemer, who has accumulated an impressive portfolio of luxury hotels, restaurants and chalets.
“I told [Christophe Tollemer, Artistic Director] I don’t want a boutique, I want a house. This may sound completely crazy, but that’s how we treated our private clients when they came to our place.”– Anne-Lise, CEO of Henry Jacques
“Most of them we have known for a long time. So we wanted to offer a similar experience in our boutiques. Also, I wanted all our new clients to understand that perfume can be an ultra-luxurious experience.”
In Ann-Lise’s Dubai house, “everything is real. The floor tiles come from an 18th-century castle, the mirror is 18th-century antique, the couch was covered by the finest Venetian fabric craftsmen, and all the woodwork was completed in France, shipped here in pieces and reassembled by a team of specialists flown in from France. The wood craftsmanship is rare even in France. A specialist painter was also flown in to paint the gold leaves. We wanted the Boutique to be made with the same level of expertise as the perfumes.”
While boutiques are usually designed to display as much as possible, Ann-Lise prefers that a visit to their boutique be a process of gradual discovery. The boutique even has a “Special” room “to offer a bespoke session. So that the private clients can come here directly, close the door, and then spend time with their own emotions.”
“Our perfumes are quite complex and can have up to 250 components.” All 50 perfumes of the standard collection are available in the Boutique, and they come in two different sizes 15 and 30 ml. However, “for Dubai, we have brought 30 additional perfumes. The 50 are displayed in the main boutique, while the 30 are in the private room. The reason is our Middle-eastern clients. We have known each other for many years, which is why we have the extra 30 just for Dubai.”
The perfumes are contained in flacons designed by Christophe and produced in-house. To house their unique and limited editions, Christophe has collaborated with some of the best crystal-glass makers and jewellers to produce flacons that are innovative, intricately-designed and aesthetically stunning. One such flacon on display is the “only example of a Jewellery piece in Dubai featuring white and brown diamonds.” These are “artistic statements where different crafts come together to create a bottle where the colour of the perfume determines the design of the bottle and the colour of the stones.”
Henry Jacques is in a challenging yet enviable place. Its unique savoir-faire has enabled it to carve out a niche for itself while the dynamics of the modern world demands that it innovate. Ann-Lise seems to have found a formula that satisfies both. She is uncompromising on the quality of the perfumes and on the luxury of time as her father insisted while innovating, modernising and steadily expanding how Henry Jacques’ timeless fragrances are unravelled to new admirers; to create new memories. After all, “a perfume may not be a visible accessory, but it is a very powerful one, since the strongest memory is the olfactory memory.”